It is nearly the end of November, and many clubs have passed the decision point on whether or not to keep their rookies with the team. For newly signed rookies, this is what decides whether or not their entry-level contract (ELC) will begin.
For those who don’t know, the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for nine games at the start of the regular season when a player on his entry-level contract can be evaluated. A prospect who plays for any Canadian Hockey League team in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), or Western Hockey League (WHL) can return to his junior team prior to dressing for his 10th NHL game without his ELC contract kicking in. The 10th game begins the ELC contract and starts the countdown towards free agency. This player will not be eligible to go to the American Hockey League due to an agreement with the CHL that prohibits 18-and-19-year-old prospects from playing in the AHL.
To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by Sept. 15 of that season) is not considered a rookie.
Several teams in the Eastern Conference have rookies on their roster who have made their case to stay in the NHL this season and are already proving themselves worthy.
The Bruins have always had strong goalies, so with Tuukka Rask out of the lineup, they needed someone who would prove his worth.
With Rask out of the Bruins’ lineup this season due to offseason surgery, Boston needed someone to step up to the plate. They found that in rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman. He stepped in for 10 games during the 2021 season, setting a record of 7-3-0. In the 10 games he’s played this season, he has seen six wins and four losses.
It’s rare to see a goalie come in with such dominance, especially one that was a fourth-round pick. Swayman’s 2021-22 season is starting off better than head netminder Linus Ullmark, who is sitting at 4-3-0 on the season. Time will tell as to whether or not Swayman peaked as a rookie or if this Anchorage, Alaska native will be here to stay.
The Hurricanes rookie has already stolen the hearts of fans and may be a come-from-behind contender for the Calder.
The nineteen-year-old Manitoban has shown displays of ‘Jarvellousness‘ during every game with the Hurricanes. When this forward is on the ice, take warning because he is able to connect with every line. No matter who head coach Rod Brind’Amour places him with, he is able to partner with them and play smart.
Jarvis averaged nearly 16 minutes during the last five games, a nearly four-minute jump from his first five with the team. He’s sounded the buzzer four times in 13 games, and has three assists with the team. Out of those four goals, two have been game-winning goals. So Jarvis could easily be a dark horse in the race for the Calder Cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets kept two rookies in the NHL for this season, and both are showing strong skills on the ice.
When Columbus drafted the winger 21st overall in the 2020 Entry Draft, many people didn’t know his name and wondered why the Blue Jackets would take a chance on an unknown. It wasn’t until videos of his time in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) came out that people understood why they picked the Russian star. In four seasons overseas, Chinakhov was able to gather 107 points in 129 games between Omski Yastreby of the MHL and Avangard Omsk of the KHL. He may not have the goals and points in the NHL like others on this list do, but he is exactly what the Blue Jackets needed to remain playoff contenders. In the 15 games he has played with Columbus, he has one goal and three assists.
At the age of eighteen, Cole Sillinger is the youngest player currently playing in the NHL. He was drafted 12th overall at the 2021 Entry Draft, and the team is hoping that he could be the answer to their centremen prayers. The Blue Jackets run in the family, as his father, Mike Sillinger, had played for the team from 2001 to 2003. When playing with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, the younger Sillinger was able to average 1.48 points per game, racking up a total of 46 points last season.
Sillinger is bringing offensive skills with him, something that Columbus was in desperate need of. While he may not have defensive skills, it is something that is teachable. He is just 19 games into his NHL career and already has four goals, five assists, and nine points. He is going to be one to keep an eye on and for fans in Columbus.
Detroit Red Wings
If there are any two names making waves in the race for the Calder Trophy, it is the Red Wings’ Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider.
Whether it is points (21), goals (9), or assists (12), Raymond is leading the charge for the rookies. The 19-year-old Gothenburg, Sweden native was picked fourth overall in the 2020 Entry Draft and spent last season with Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He made his way onto the roster this season and has shown that he is here to stay.
With the way his season is going so far, the winger may be the next star out of the Detroit Red Wings, and could very well be one of the players who brings them back to their glory days as true Stanley Cup contenders. If he continues the streak he is on, Raymond could very well be the rookie accepting the Calder Trophy come June.
Where Raymond is leading the rookie forwards, Moritz Seider is leading the rookie defensemen. In 22 games, he has two goals, 12 assists, and 14 points, showing why he was picked sixth overall in the 2019 Entry Draft. Combined with Raymond, these two rookies are turning heads back in the direction of the Red Wings. The 21-year-old has already been named as one of three provisional players on the German Olympic roster for the Beijing Olympics. It is not a shock seeing as how he was named SHL’s defensemen of the year, a title he is showing the NHL is well-earned. Seider is seeing a lot of ice-time and his average of 22:17 of ice-time per game is second to top Red Wings defender Filip Hronek. With help from Seider and Raymond, Detroit could see itself back in playoff contention soon.
The Panthers have kept two rookies on past the preseason, one of which is a goalie that is already showing his worth, and the other who has a desire to prove himself to his childhood idol.
With the 12th pick in the 2020 Entry Draft, the Panthers picked Anton Lundell from the Finnish Liiga. Even though his team, HIFK Helsinki, missed the postseason, Lundell was still able to shine, one time netting four goals in less than 21 minutes in a game against SaiPa. That is one of the many reasons why he’s the proud owner of a gold helmet. It is a tradition in the Liiga, where they give the kultainen kypärä, or golden helmet, to the league’s best player. In 17 games with the Florida Panthers, he has a total of three goals and four assists. Lundell grew up idolizing Aleksander Barkov, and he’s now playing alongside him on the forward line every night, getting the ability to learn from the man he hoped to one day be.
THW’s Joey Ganzi referred to the rookie goalie as a ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ in his article ‘Panthers’ Lundell & Knight Are Both Calder Trophy Candidates,’ and that cannot be a truer statement for how the 20-year-old rookie has been playing. In the four games he played last season, he got the ‘W’ in all of those, and in 10 games this season, he has a record of 5-3-1. Knight is lucky to be with the Panthers, as he will be learning from former Panther great Roberto Luongo and François Allaire, who taught Luongo, Patrick Roy, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Like the other rookie goaltenders on this list, Knight will be a name to watch in the future of NHL goaltending.
When Montreal gave Cole Caufield a roster spot in the 2021-2022 season, it came as a surprise to no one.
Hockey fans were first introduced to the rookie during the 2021 playoffs when he made waves for his on-ice skills. What this 5-foot-7 forward lacks in size, he makes up for in skills. While playing for the US National Team Development Program, he scored 126 goals in 123 games.
In college, Caufield led the NCAA with 30 goals last season and won the Hobey Baker Award. While playing with the Canadiens, he managed to tally 12 points during the playoffs. Going into the season, he was at the top of everyone’s list as a Calder contender, but the 2021-2022 season is seeing Montreal and Caufield alike not playing as they did last season. There is still time for both to turn the season around. In 15 games with Montreal this season, Caufield has one goal and two assists.
New York Rangers
The Rangers had one rookie who stayed in New York past the preseason, but it’s not a name that a lot of North Americans are familiar with.
The 28th overall pick in the 2018 Entry Draft spent four seasons playing in the SHL, where he got to hone his skill with players who were a variety of ages. While he wasn’t strong his rookie year, he got stronger the more time that he spent in the league, and last season he won the Salming Trophy, awarded to the SHL’s best Swedish-born defensemen. Unlike most leagues, the SHL is comprised primarily of Swedes, so for the 20-year-old to win shows how strong he was on the blue line. With 15 NHL-level games under his belt, he has two assists and is beginning to learn how to come into his own in America. THW’s Brian Abate believes Lundkvist can become a difference-maker for the Rangers if they give him the chance.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have one rookie that is making a name for himself around the NHL and is on many people’s tongues as a Calder candidate.
One of the top contenders for the Calder Trophy is Dawson Mercer, the 18th overall pick of the 2020 Entry Draft. The newest player to earn a roster spot hails from Carbonear, Newfoundland, and had played four seasons in the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs and the Chicoutimi Saugenéens. His best season in the juniors was in 2018-19, when he had 30 goals and 34 assists in 68 games. In his 19 games with the Devils this season, he has six goals and eight assists.
Should he keep up this pace, he could easily tie or outpace his best junior season. THW’s Kristy Flannery has been watching him since his debut and says that when he made his debut, her eyes gravitated to him and his ability. She knew he would get on the scoreboard in some capacity, and he did just that by getting an assist. Ever since then, he’s shown the Devils that he deserves to stay and fits right in with their lineup.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa had two young guns that made an impact in the preseason and made their case to stay in the Sunshine State instead of going back to Syracuse.
The Russian-Canadian, who was born in Vancouver to Russian immigrant parents, was selected 44th overall in the 2016 Entry Draft by Tampa Bay. In the time he was drafted until now, the left winger had not played in an NHL game. After getting drafted, he spent two years with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) and an additional three years with the Syracuse Crunch (AHL). So far, the 23-year-old has played in ten games with the Bolts since breaking into the league. In those ten games, he has two assists. THW’s Eugene Helfrick believes that working alongside a veteran like Corey Perry is going to help Katchouk and fellow rookie Taylor Raddysh alike how to make waves in the NHL. In his 12 games in Tampa, he has three assists.
When I first saw the 23-year-old during a preseason game, his connection with Boris Katchouck was undeniable. The two were drafted together in 2016, played together with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and spent three seasons with the Syracuse Crunch. In the 19 games he has played with the Lightning, he only has one assist, so he has a long way to go. Will he be a Calder Trophy candidate? Chances are he won’t, but as a bottom-six forward, he is learning his way with NHL-caliber games. It needs to be kept in mind that he is in his first season, and like many are still early in their career, he is hesitant to take the chances. Time will tell as to whether or not he will make a name for himself in the league.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto’s team of veterans got a young face added to the roster this season in this young Swede.
The Swedish-American defensemen grew up in Sweden and was picked 17th overall in the 2017 Entry Draft. He made it onto the Toronto Marlies roster the year after his draft. His rookie season saw the team lifting the Calder Cup as the best team in the AHL. In the four seasons he played with the Marlies, he saw his best year in 2019-2020, where he had five goals and 25 assists in 40 games, giving him 30 points for the season.
That same year, he got to play 11 games in the NHL, but it wasn’t until this past October that he got the nod to stay with the Maple Leafs at the start of the season. Liljegren has played 14 games so far and has two assists in that time. He is one of the youngest players on a team made up of veterans but has the right mentors to learn from.
When injuries started to put Capitals players out of commission, it gave this rookie his chance to make an impact on the team.
The Calgary, Alberta native was called up to the NHL due to ever-increasing injuries with the Capitals, and he’s shown that he’s earned the nod. The 25th overall pick in the 2019 Entry Draft has two goals and one assist during his time with the Caps. In fact, his first goal came in his second-ever NHL game.
Prior to seeing NHL action this season, he spent two years with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. With a healthy roster, it is hard to say whether or not this rookie will continue to stay in Washington, but he has made his case to remain. In the 14 games he has played with the Capitals, he has two goals and one assist.
We are still early in the season, and the tides could change at any point for these young players. Are there any rookies that I missed or any that should they be called up by the AHL could make a point to stay in the big leagues?
On her previous stint with The Hockey Writers, Casey covered the Tampa Bay Lightning, but she has returned to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though she is Steel City born, a former season ticker member with the Lightning, and lives in Orlando, the Canes have always been her favourite team. She started her hockey career as Keeper of Time for the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcan Hockey Club while going to school for Sport Management. She hopes to one day work with Hockey Ministries International as a team chaplain. You can usually find her tweeting about hockey or posting pictures on Instagram.